Three victories for accountability & transparency in Brighton

Posted by on Sep 24, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

I received the following email from Brighton Councillor John Martinello on September 21, 2014. These three victories have not come easy, but I believe that they were worth fighting for and they will have a positive impact on municipal politics in Brighton for years to come.

VICTORY 1 – THE BRIGHTON CITIZEN GROUP (BCG) CANDIDATES FORUM ; SEPT 16, 2014

 

1. By every account, the BCG presented a very well organized forum that allowed every participant an excellent opportunity to stand before, and be held to account by, the citizens they hope to represent. In my view, the success of the forum was – in large part – due to the firm but fair direction of moderator James Ferth. And the forum was successful. Within 10 minutes of doors opening, the Brighton Legion was filled with a capacity crowd of 200 people; 75 people stood outside waiting to get in.

 

2. Following is a link to the complete video record of the forum. At just over 2 hrs, it is long, but very interesting & very informative. I encourage you to take the time to watch it in its entirety.

 

http://www.smilingidiot.com

 

3. In watching the video you will note that, at the beginning of the forum, Councillor Rittwage angrily walked off the stage in solidarity with two people who did not participate in the forum – Councillor Rowley & Mr Ostrander. Councillor Rowley & Mr Ostrander did not participate in the forum because they failed to submit answers – to 6 questions – by the midnight Thursday deadline set by the BCG. At a Facebook post, Councillor Rittwage – evidently acting as spokesman for Councillor Rowley & Mr Ostrander – offered the following account for their non-participation.

 

Councillor Rittwage: “The 100.9 MYFM sponsored debate has excluded Emily Rowley because while she was busy supporting her daughter that just gave birth, she was too busy to answer 6 questions prior to Thursday. Does this not merit a reasonable excuse? Brian Ostrander had been excluded because he too was busy with career work and volunteer work and unable to respond.” (underlining my own)

 

4. The problem with Councillor Rittwage’s excuse for Mr Ostrander’s non-participation is that it is completely inconsistent with Mr Ostrander’s own excuse for his non-participation. At a Facebook post dated 12:29 pm, September 13, 2014, Mr Ostrander offered the following excuse. And I say “excuse” fully understanding the meaning of the word.

 

Mr Ostrander: “The week leading up to the date the answers were due I was having issues with my internet router, which I was working to resolve.”

 

5. The inconsistency in the two excuses for Mr Ostrander’s non-participation makes it very difficult to really know the reason for Mr Ostrander’s non-participation in the forum. Even if Mr Ostrander’s excuse IS the real reason for his non-participation, isn’t reasonable to expect that he could develop a work-around to a computer problem? Maybe borrow a friend’s computer or use one of the computers at the Brighton Public Library or by a new router?

 

VICTORY 2 – RECORDING OPEN & CLOSED SESSIONS OF COUNCIL MEETINGS

 

6. This battle for accountability & transparency began on June 2, 2014 when council considered a motion (moved by Councillor Martinello & seconded by Councillor Tadman) to record, & make available to the public, the open sessions of council meetings. This motion was defeated in a tie vote (FOR the motion: Councillors Martinello & Tadman, Mayor Walas; AGAINST the motion: Councillors Rowley, Vandertoorn & Kerr).

 

7. This battle for accountability & transparency continued on August 11, 2014 when council considered a motion (moved by Councillor Martinello & seconded Councillor Tadman) to record the closed sessions of council meetings. Council, very graciously, deferred consideration of this motion until I returned from vacation & could speak to it.

 

8. And then it happened. At the September 15 council meeting, after approximately 4 months of sometimes acrimonious debate, council approved a policy for the recording of the open & closed sessions of council meetings. Council meetings will be recorded starting with the October 6 council meeting.

 

9. Not only is this a large step forward for accountability and transparency in Brighton, it also puts Brighton very close to a leadership position in the province of Ontario. Brighton is now the seventh of 444 Ontario municipalities that records the closed portion of council meetings. That is good news.

 

VICTORY 3 – TERMINATION OF THE LOCAL AUTHORITY SERVICE (LAS) CONTRACT FOR CLOSED MEETING INVESTIGATIONS

 

10. This battle for accountability & transparency started at the April 22, 2014 council mtg when council considered a motion (moved by Councillor Martinello & seconded by Mayor Walas) to terminate the LAS contract for provision of closed mtg investigation services. I moved this motion because it made absolutely no common sense to me that Brighton taxpayers should pay LAS for closed mtg investigation services (at a cost of $330/yr retainer fee & investigation cost of $300/hr), when these services are provided – at no charge – by the Ombudsman of Ontario. This motion was deferred until Mr Andre Marin, the Ombudsman of Ontario, presented his case to council.

 

11. Mr Marin appeared at the July 21 council mtg & presented very convincing &, in my view, irrefutable evidence that the Ombudsman of Ontario could provide the most credible, unbiased & cost-effective closed mtg investigation services available. Ms Plumridge, representing the LAS case for closed mtg investigation services, appeared at the August 11 council mtg. Although I was absent from this mtg, I very carefully listened to the audio record of Ms Plumridge’s presentation. Listening to her presentation convinced me, more than ever, that the LAS contract for closed mtg investigation services must be terminated.

 

12. At the Sep 15 council mtg, council considered another motion (moved by Councillor Martinello & seconded by Councillor Tadman) to terminate the LAS contract for provision of closed mtg investigation services. This motion was unanimously supported by council.

 

13. I believe that the termination of the LAS contract is one more important step towards full accountability & transparency in Brighton. It is also a clear demonstration of the fiscal responsibility that must become one of the underpinnings of the new council.

 

14. There is nothing confidential in this e-mail. Please distribute it as you see fit.

 

15. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions about the preceding, or any other issues.

 

John Martinello
613 475 5120

 

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Brighton municipal wages and benefits have increased by $896,280.00 in four years – Citizen Comment

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

The following information was provided to Brighton Council by Councillor Candidate Roger McMurray during the Citizen Comment portion of the September 2, 2014 Council meeting.

As a ratepayer since 1972, Municipal government and its costs have been an ongoing concern. Earlier this year I started researching municipality-related documents and have finished spreadsheets and produced graphs to illustrate what I consider to be one of a suite of problem areas – the escalating levels of wages and benefits.

 

Brighton_wage_increase

 

Upon reading the Municipal Agenda Package for this meeting, I noticed that there was a recommendation “that Council approve the Social Media Strategy and Policy for the Municipality of Brighton” (Page 152 of Agenda Package). The Strategy Section of the document on pages 15 to 18 includes under section 4.3, RESPONSIBILITIES, a list of duties for someone with the title of ”DESIGNATE” – whom I assume will be a municipal employee. In addition, on page 165 0f the Agenda Package and page 12 of the Social Media Strategy document under the heading, “Emergency Management” the last paragraph states “In the event of public media comment on Social Media Accounts, responses will be generated after consultation with the “Citizen Inquiry Supervisor” (Does this position exist?).

 

The financial Implications are stated as “being limited to staff time (I assume this is time over and above regular duties) which will be allocated to the management of these sites as well as advertising costs (not defined).” If Council approves this document, could this (approval) possibly result in two new employee positions being created?

 

You wonder why I am concerned. Well, as I see it, municipalities have four critical responsibilities, Fire services, Police services, Water services and Roadway maintenance. Deficiencies in any one of these areas could result in death or injury.

 

Overall Municipal budget levels have increased from approximately 11 Million dollars in 2009 to $16,743,463.00 dollars in 2014 (See attached graph).

 

Brighton_budget_increase

 

As an aside, I attend garage sales on a regular basis and often travel over rough roads. I even lost a wheel cover on a pothole riddled Presqu’ile Park roadway. The Park is supposed to be one of the municipality’s crown jewels and is a shared Provincial/Municipal responsibility. The Municipality is doing its share, but the Province has fallen flat on its face and cannot get up. Perhaps a reminder to our newly minted MPP is in order. Poor roadway maintenance reflects badly on the municipality as visitors are unaware of the shared maintenance responsibilities.

 

Residents are generally not shy about describing the state of the roads particularly in the rural areas. They cannot understand why the municipality can’t keep their road graded. I can say with reasonable certainty that Public Works is limited by financial considerations and that lack of funding is a contributing factor.

 

The enclosed graphs show that during the period 2005 to 2013 wages and benefits increased by 1,556,092.00 and during the period 2009 to 2013, wages and benefits have increased by $896,280.00. I have the spreadsheets from which these graphs were constructed as well as the source documents used to construct the wages and benefits spreadsheet and graphs. I urge Council to determine the reasons for this increase and take steps to mitigate it.

Mr. McMurray’s comments raise the following questions:

  1. Since we have seen a significant increase in the size of the budget (amount of taxpayer dollars spent), have we seen a significant increase in the services provided by the Municipality of Brighton?
  2. Since there has been a significant increase in the amount spent on staffing, have we seen a significant increase in the service level provided by the Municipality of Brighton?

 

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The letter to Brighton Council that started it all

Posted by on Sep 22, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

The following is a letter that I sent to Brighton Council on September 19, 2013. At the Council meeting on September 15, 2014 a motion was passed to revoke LAS as the closed meeting investigator for Brighton. By revoking LAS the Ontario Ombudsman can now provide this service at no cost to the Municipality of Brighton. The motion was originally put forward on April 22, 2014 by Councillor Martinello and if the passing of the motion had not been delayed, Brighton taxpayers would not be footing the bill for the closed meeting investigation that is currently under way. Four days short of year and the four councillors (Kerr, Rittwage, Rowley and Vandertoorn) “saw the light and voted to finally support this initiative. These councillors had vociferously opposed revoking LAS until this point, so perhaps there is an election coming?

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

 

I and many other citizens have concerns on the transparency provided by Council. I am in no way suggesting that anything inappropriate has been done by any member of Council and there have been some efforts to increase transparency which I do appreciate, but I believe that more can be done in this regard. Even with a perception of veiled transparency, there is increasing suspicion created and this together with the ongoing personal conflicts amongst some council members is adding to the dysfunctional appearance of Council. I attended the last Council meeting and there were comments from those seated near me that “here they go again, 4/3 split and nothing gets done as usual”. Of course this is inaccurate as when a majority of Council votes in favour of a motion, it passes and “something gets done”. However, there is a perception that there is some sort of collusion taking place behind closed doors and this perception is having a negative impact on the community.

 

Therefore, I would like an individual response from each member of Council as to whether you would support having the Ontario Ombudsman assume the role of Private Meetings Investigator for the Municipality of Brighton. In my opinion, this would not only show the residents that our Council is committed to transparency, it would also show residents that they are being fiscally responsible since this is a free service provided by the Ombudsman.

 

I look forward to your replies.

 

Sincerely,

 

Adrian Ellis

Adrian Ellis - Smiling Idiot - Municipality of Brighton Politics

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Brighton Citizen Group Candidate Forum – video

Posted by on Sep 17, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

Many thanks to the Brighton Citizen Group for putting such a great event. Doors opened at 6:00 and the Fire Chief closed the door at 6:10, capacity reached with citizens lined up down the stairs and out into the parking lot. Lots of great questions AND answers.

The BCG members and partners faced online and offline threats and intimidation from sitting Councillors for “sticking to the rules”, oh the irony…. I am proud that the group stood by it’s principles!

Keep SMILING

Please click here to view and/or download a copy of the Candidates’ answers to the Brighton Citizens Group’s pre-forum questions.

 

Video credit – Chris Pelletier – NorthumberlandView.ca

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Newly Formed Brighton Citizen Group to Host Municipal Election Candidates Forum

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

The Brighton Citizen Group has finalized plans for a municipal election ‘all candidates forum’ to be held at The Royal Canadian Legion, Brighton on Tuesday, September 16, from 6:30 to 8:30.

Media partners for the event are myFM 100.9 and Northumberlandview.ca. with special thanks to The Royal Canadian Legion, Brighton Branch 100 for use of their facilities.

James Ferth, popular myFM news personality and reporter at large will bring his unique style of news gathering to the role of moderator for the evening and the event will be live-streamed by Chris Pelletier, Northumberland View.

Unlike many candidate forums, the citizen group has tried to design a format to encourage candidates and residents to get close and interact. The doors will open at 6:00pm giving candidates the opportunity to mix with the audience before the evening gets underway.

Once time is called each candidate will introduce themselves and their platform, then each will be asked to respond to one of six questions – determined by a draw – to which they will have had prior access.

In the second segment of the evening candidates will field question from the audience. Audience members will be encouraged to write their questions on cards and either ask them directly from an open mike or pass them to the moderator who will identify the writer and ask the question on their behalf.

The evening will close with each candidate offering a one-minute summation.

The citizen group feels the event is a great way to kick off the local election in a manner that allows the candidates an opportunity to meet the public and state their values, and the public an opportunity get close to the candidates and ask questions one on one.

As of Monday, September 8, almost all candidates have confirmed their participation.

You can contact the Brighton Citizen Group via email at brightoncgroup@gmail.com

Brighton_Citizen_Group_email

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Brighton Citizen Group – All Candidates Forum

Posted by on Sep 7, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

The Brighton Citizen Group in conjunction with media partners 100.9 myFM Radio, NorthumberlandView.ca and The Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 100 Brighton, is conducting an all candidates forum for Brighton Mayoral and Councillor candidates on:

Tuesday, September 16 from 6:30pm until 8:30pm  (Doors open at 6:00pm)
Brighton Legion Hall, 25 Park Street, Brighton

Click here to download a .pdf copy of the event poster

Those interested in finding out more about the Brighton Citizen Group, or supporting its efforts are invited to send inquiries to brightoncgroup@gmail.com

All_Candidates_2014_poster_final

 

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